In Sales? Been told you’ve got the Gift of Gab? STFU!

If you want to close the deal, close your mouth.

“Nature has given us two ears, two eyes and but one tongue — to that end we should hear and see more than we speak.” These are words of wisdom from Socrates about 2,500 years ago. They still ring true today if you want to influence others to do what you want them to do. I coach Financial Advisors from coast to coast by phone to help them grow their clientele. When they first hire me, they claim they are either good or very good at sales. Once we get into the coaching process, it’s a different story: They may be good at getting more assets from existing clients or bringing aboard someone’s brother-in-law, but sorely lack a systematic consultative approach for turning their less-than-warm prospects into solid clients.

A contact sport

Financial advisors don’t like to think of themselves as salespeople – after all, they are “professional advisors,” right? But there’s simply no getting around the fact that the process of influencing people to do business with you—or take a certain course of action—involves selling. I believe it was Thomas J. Watson, founder of IBM, who said, “Nothing happens until there’s a sale.” In other words, until one person induces another person to part with their hard-earned money for a product or a service, nothing changes. I suspect the majority of FA’s who don’t make it never embraced the fact that their business is like football – it’s a contact sport, and the scoreboard reflects their sales, or lack of them.

The gift of gab myth

The essence of FA activity needs to be about interacting with their clients, their prospects and their networking associates. When I say “interact,” it doesn’t mean that FA’s should be constantly running off at the mouth. A lot of people have been told, “Hey, you’ve got the gift of gab – you oughta go into sales.” Unskilled salespeople consider this gift as their greatest asset. What they often do is talk their way out moving a relationship forward as prospects’ eyes glaze over from their verbal harangue. Believing sales is a numbers game, rookies will talk the ear off of anyone who has a pulse without bothering to identify appropriate candidates for their offerings. This is contrary to the first rule of getting people to like you ala Dale Carnegie – in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People, he encourages you to “take a genuine interest” in other people. And how exactly do you do that? By asking questions of course!

The cost of turning pro

How many people actually consider sales as a profession? For comparison sake, let’s turn to other professions for a moment: What does it cost to become a doctor or an attorney? Besides the enormous tuition they pay, how much do these aspiring M.D.’s and lawyers read, study, get tested, get trained, do internships, etc.? By contrast, the cost to become an FA is virtually nothing. There isn’t an entrance exam, no degree requirement beyond a BA, no huge tuition fee. And while there are licensing exams, mandatory continuing education credits and advanced designations, professional sales training is not required, despite it being a sales profession. No wonder 90% of FA’s bomb out within the first 5 years. So a major cause of failure in this business is not investing in proper sales training, leading to the inability to market and sell your services.

Socrates revisited

The essence of our ability to influence others is Socratic in nature. The Socratic method is a form of inquiry and discussion between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and illuminate ideas. For FA’s, it’s the skill of using questions to allow people to realize how you can help them. I have all of my clients learn to conduct an initial “Consultative Interview” that allows prospects to come to their own conclusion about why they need to hire them. In this regard, the coaching is about learning to ask questions first and then “STFU.” (This simple acronym always seems to stay with them …)

A clear process

Elements of a good Consultative Interview with a new prospect include:

• A list of carefully scripted questions, done before a meeting. Preparation is a key to success in moving a sale forward.

• An agenda for the meeting. Prospects are looking to you to let them know what to expect during your time together.

• A thorough needs assessment. Your scripted questions will allow you to identify prospect needs as you control the flow of information.

• A discussion of fees. In the spirit of transparency, you’ll want your prospects to understand up front how you get paid.

• A clear understanding of a prospect’s decision making process. Find out who besides the prospect (family members, other professionals, associates, etc.) is involved with the decision to hire you.

• A next step – either signed paperwork or a subsequent appointment. If another meeting is called for, get it on the calendar. Don’t accept “Why don’t you give me a call me next week?”

Telling is not selling – asking is

You’ve most likely heard the line “telling is not selling.” Yet how many times have you started by asking questions of a prospect only to veer off into a lengthy educational discourse on your offering? It’s a tough habit to break if that’s what you’ve been doing over the years. Yet with proper coaching and practice, you’ll find people will sell themselves on you if you conduct a proper Consultative Interview. Ironically, by talking less, you’ll be demonstrating your expertise by the quality of questions you ask.

To recap, perhaps the best sales coaching I can give you:

Ask questions first, then STFU: Shut The ForGodSake’s Up!!!

(What did YOU think the “F” stood for, hmmm?)

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